Coffee is Ethiopia's biggest export, with the country providing almost 10pc of the country's coffee production. The cultural importance of coffee, especially in the metropolitan culture of Addis Abeba, has always been significant, with people congregating in cafes for business, and for pleasure. In this always active market, new coffee brands, which package and sell coffee, as well as serve it in their cafes, have begun to spring up all over the city, as BEYENE WOLDE, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER, reports.
Addis Abeba’s cafe culture stretches across all walks of life. At any time of day, the City’s cafes are teeming with customers who stop in between appointments, or even conduct business over a cup of coffee. Lingering for a morning over a newspaper rented or bought from wandering vendors and speaking to friends is a popular way to spend time for both locals and tourists in Addis.
“I have been a customer from the beginning. The coffee here has a special taste,” says Daniel Gebremaryam, a customer at Abyssinia Coffee. “The space is wider and you can spend a long time over coffee than in other places.”
Abyssinia Coffee began exporting coffee in 1990, and opened a coffee shop in Addis two years ago. So far, it operates in two locations. “We process coffee for the local market, which is sold in our café, after being ground and packaged,” explained Abiy Demise, export Manager. “But we do not get the standard of coffee that we want because the government does not allow the use of export standard coffee locally..”
Lately there has been a boom in the number of coffee shop chains spreading across the city. They include Kaldi’s Cafe, Bilo’s, and Abyssinia Coffee. The majority of these coffee shop chains also sell processed coffee which has been roasted and ground on both the local and international markets.
“The 25 years of experience that we have in the sector will help us to be competitive in the coffee market, which will help generate foreign currency,” says Andamlak Ashenafi, Abyssinia’s coffee sales manager. Even though Abyssinia does not export their coffee, it has found a significant demand on the local market, and amongst tourists in Addis.
Coffee is a longstanding tradition in Ethiopia, where the Arabica coffee bean, also known as coffea arabica, originated. Although the plant is now grown in various parts of the world Ethiopia is the largest coffee producer in sub Saharan Africa and the fifth largest coffee producer in the world next to Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, and Indonesia, contributing about seven to 10pc of total world coffee production.
Ethiopia’s annual coffee production is approximately 280,000 metric tons. Even with nearly half of this total being consumed domestically, exports for the most recent year were 146,500 MT, one-third of which was washed.
Coffee is still Ethiopia’s top export and brings in a third of the country’s foreign exchange. But the coffee market process in Ethiopia is highly affected by contraband trade that not only affects the local market, but also affects foreign income flows from export.
While the coffee business is a perpetually popular one, coffee shops in the capital are also expanding their various service delivery methods.
Bethlehem Alemu, known for her footwear products in the international market, is the founder of Garden of Coffee.
The business is setting a new trend for customers in the way it processes coffee. On the cafe’s online platform, customers can select their choice of beans, their roast level and their roaster of choice.
“We roast specifically to order and only when the customer has placed their request,” said Bethlehem. “This results in the freshest coffee.”
As with any business, many factors contributed to the owners deciding to get involved in coffee. For Bethlehem, it was the desire to start a unique way to enjoy coffee while advertising Ethiopian culture to the world.
Liyu Buna, which was established a decade ago with an investment capital of half a million Birr, was started by a slightly different motivation.
“I spoke with coffee suppliers about the preparation and distribution of coffee,” said Zewdu Tezera, the general manager. “The idea to start packaging and selling coffee came from that.”
“We buy coffee from wholesalers who buy from the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange, and then it undergoes further treatments,” he added.
The taste of coffee at every cafe is also different. In the case of both Abyssinia Coffee and Liyu Buna their coffee is a blend of beans from different areas in the country. At Garden of Coffee guests are able to select the exact type and blend of beans that they would like, as well as the roast level.
Apart from being an integral part of Ethiopian culture, coffee is also big business.
Export earnings from coffee reached 722.4 million dollars last fiscal year, although that figure has declined by an average of three percent every year since the 2010/11 fiscal year. International coffee prices were to blame for the decline, although the volume exported increased by eight percent every year to reach 198,600 tonnes. The international price of coffee declined by 14pc last year.
The Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX), established in 2007 and started trading operations in 2008, facilitates the market process between sellers and buyers. It provides a platform for farmers, wholesalers, exporters and buyers to carry out easy transactions, ensuring that fairer prices are paid for coffee.
The question of using high standard coffee beans that would normally be used only for export has been raised before. Although it was not allowed before, the matter is now being looked into.
“Based on the capacity of people who want to join the business will be allowed here after,” explains Ermias Eshetu, president of the ECX.
In spite of the various policy changes initiated by the government in relation to the coffee trade, there have still been various pitfalls. Recently, there have been court cases involving allegations of coffee earmarked for export being sold on the local market. And late last year, coffee manufacturers requested the Prime Minister’s Office to enforce a loan forgiveness scheme for coffee producers affected by the violent unrest that swept across large parts of the country.
However, that has not stopped the market from being more attractive to new comers.
Bethlehem Alemu, the founder of Garden of Coffee, initially became well known for the shoe manufacturing company SoleRebels, which manufactures shoes from discarded tyres and other materials. In starting the cafe, Bethlehem’s driving passion was sharing Ethiopian culture through coffee grown, processed and roasted by hand by local roasters.
“We pack our customers coffee in state of the art bags and ship it to the customer’s door the same day,” she says.
While the international coffee markets may still be in a state of flux, coffee is still an everyday fixture in the lives of city residents, and a lucrative business for many.
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